The 5 Best Watercolor Pencil Sets in 2021

For artists looking to learn watercolor techniques or for plein air, or outdoor painting, watercolor pencils are an excellent choice due to their transportability, general ease of use, and contained hues. Beginners learning different blending, wash, or fine detail techniques will also find watercolor pencils to be an excellent introduction to this medium.

Unlike standard colored pencils, these pencils are watercolor pigments wrapped in a wooden pencil that allows for greater control when painting, without the mess of watercolor paints. They are also an excellent and versatile medium to create watercolor art, sketches, illustrations, or drawings.

Deciding on which watercolor set to buy can be daunting with all of the options available, but we will cover the best watercolor pencils based on the grade and the lightfastness of the shades. We will also cover the best watercolor pencils for different use cases, like those for beginners, sketchbooks or coloring books.

All products are graded based on 1-10 for each selection criteria, with 10 being the best.

How to Choose the Best Watercolor Pencils (Selection Criteria)

While very different from painting with a brush, watercolor pencils have multiple uses that create very different art. For instance, they can be used dry or with water added to the tip then applied to dry paper or a dry pencil on wet paper, to name a few. Watercolor brush pens like this one also allow for greater control and creativity when sketching or illustrating. Lastly, watercolor pencils can also be more forgiving while learning this difficult medium.

Grade

There are three widely accepted grades of watercolor pencils to choose from, student, artist, or professional grade. These categories help buyers understand the quality of art supplies they’re investing in.

Student-Grade

Student-Grade watercolor pencils are categorized by the vitality of colors, lightfastness, and ease of use. Also usually are made from wax; they are always cheaper than professional-grade pencils and are good for learning techniques and applications due to their inexpensive cost. They also have the least attractive packing, usually a paper box.

Artist-grade

Artist-grade or scholastic grade watercolor pencils are usually a step up from student grade in that they are easy to blend and have a bit more color intensity. They can be made of wax or oil and are more expensive than student-grade. The container can be tin or higher quality cardboard.

Professional grade

Professional grade is for artists with a lot of experience in various watercolor techniques, color theory, and application varieties. Some hues can even maintain their color (lightfastness) for 100+ years. This grade is the most expensive but worth the price when looking for vibrant shades. The box is generally made of tin or wood, and the pencils themselves are more elaborate than other grades.

Lightfastness

How long artwork can maintain its vibrancy is of prime importance when wanting to gift, display or sell your work and is measured by lightfastness. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) has come up with a standard way to measure the lightfastness of all media from gouache, watercolor, to acrylic. Using four exposure methods from daylight to fluorescent lighting, the ASTM has created five levels: one being excellent and five being very poor. All watercolor pencils are rated individually, and most student-grade pencils have a fair lightfastness, while professional-grade pencils are considered excellent lightfastness.

Our Product Recommendations

Best Watercolor Pencils Overall – Derwent INKTense Watercolor Pencils

Derwent Colored Pencils, Inktense Ink Pencils

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$94.99 (Was $114)
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Grade – Professional
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Lightfastness – Varied
    • Our score: 9/10

About Derwent INKTense

This Derwent 72-piece watercolor pencil set is one of the best quality pencils in the industry due to its delicate application, which helps the shades blend easily. Derwent is known for its consistent color tones and how easily their hues can be altered to get just the right effect. Although not as vibrant as some other branded sets, the variety of tones in this pack can help blend several different colors to create livelier artwork. Each pencil is measured for lightfastness, with the average pencil capable of holding its color for 50+ years under the standard exhibit settings.

Pros

  • Many colors to choose from
  • Easy to blend
  • Excellent for beginners
  • Colors are organized in a practical tin

Cons

  • Colors aren’t so vibrant

Best Watercolor Pencils for Beginners – Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils

Faber-Castel FC117524 Albrecht Durer Artist Watercolor Pencils

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$35.95 (Was $38.45)
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Grade – Artist
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Lightfastness – Varied
    • Our score: 8/10

About Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer

Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils are the highest quality pencils available from this brand and are an excellent deal for students looking for quality without breaking the bank. The color intensity of these hues means very little can go a long way to cover broad areas of paper, and although initially heavy and rough when dry, once water is applied, they are creamy smooth. In addition, the ease at which these colors can be blended makes this 24-pack of pigments quite versatile. While most watercolor pencils hold their hue for 25 years, the colors in this set can maintain their lightfastness for 100+ years.

Pros

  • Excellent quality while still being affordable
  • Can last a long time due to the intensity of the colors
  • Perfect for use dry or wet

Cons

  • Doesn’t have many colors included

Best Sketchbook Watercolor Pencils – Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium Watercolor Pencils

Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium Watercolor Pencils

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$86.98
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Grade – Professional
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Lightfastness – Varied
    • Our score: 8/10

About Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium

With 60 colors to choose from, this Staedtler watercolor pencil set has enough variety for any artists’ sketchbook or watercolor art needs. Their thin and strong lead allows for drawing details with a dry tip while still providing control when blending with water to fill more expansive areas for a transparent watercolor effect. What’s more, these are also vibrant colors, even the lighter hues, when dry and wet, so very little is needed to fill detailed areas of artwork. If looking for the best watercolor pencil sharpener, nothing worked better than an electric pencil sharpener like this one from AMFAT.

Pros

  • Can be used as standard colored pencils as well
  • No pencil marks are left behind once water is added
  • Creamy shades when wet or dry

Cons

  • The inside of the included tin is made of plastic and may wear down quicker

Best Watercolor Pencils on Amazon – Arteza Watercolor Pencils Set of 48

Arteza Watercolor Pencils Set

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$16.99 (Was $19.94)
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Grade – Artist
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Lightfastness – Varied
    • Our score: 7/10

About Arteza Watercolor Pencils

Although most well known for their professional-grade watercolor pencils, this artist-grade set is excellent for the quality and cost. Having one of the most impressive blending abilities for this price and a virtually unbreakable tip, this 48-piece set of premium colors is perfect for teaching students and teens the art of blending and mixing watercolors without leaving a mess. In addition, the colors in this set have a lightfastness ranging from 25–100 years and come in a helpful storage tube.

Pros

  • Excellent quality for the price
  • On par with Faber-Castell for blending ease
  • A variety of colors to choose from
  • Each pencil has a triangular shape to eliminate rolling on flat surfaces
  • Vigorous shades

Cons

  • Some of the lighter colors aren’t as vibrant as other brands

Best Watercolor Pencils for Coloring Books – Prismacolor 3597T Premier Colored Pencils

Prismacolor 3597T Premier Colored Pencils

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$17.99 (Was $19.99)
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Grade – Artist
    • Our score: 7/10
  • Lightfastness – Varied
    • Our score: 7/10

About Prismacolor 3597T Premier Colored Pencils

When coloring thin lines in a coloring book, having a set of watercolor pencils that are easy to blend with a durable tip is essential, and this Prismacolor set meets those requirements. The 24 colors are the most popular shades used in the watercolor world, and these soft, lively colors make blending, mixing, and layering easy without leaving residue or clutter on the page. The strong tip doesn’t break easily like many other brands and can save money having to replace the pencils in the long run. The colors included in this set are also very lightfast.

Pros

  • Most popular colors that are easily blendable for unlimited color combinations
  • Price is excellent for the quality
  • Durable tip means cost-savings if used daily
  • Includes a compact tin case

Cons

  • Some artists may prefer a more extensive palette than the 24 pencils

Conclusion

This wraps up our guide to the best watercolor pencils. Not only have we discussed how you could identify the best watercolor pencils, but we’ve also shared our recommendations in various contexts.

We’ve discussed how you can choose the best watercolor pencils and why grade and lightfastness are the key deciding factors. We’ve outlined them thoroughly to help you understand them easily.

Lastly, we combined our recommendations in different situations. So whether it is watercolor pencils for a sketchbook or a coloring book or the best watercolor pencils on Amazon, we’ve discussed it all.

Thanks for reading. We hope our suggestions help you purchase the best product for your art projects.

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